Iran, Mossad, explosions, sanctions and China - 3 takeaways - analysis

Here are three takeaways from the latest developments regarding Iran.

 Flag of Iran in the Nishapur Railway Station square (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flag of Iran in the Nishapur Railway Station square
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

So much news is happening involving Iran that it can be hard to make sense of it. Below are three key takeaways to frame the latest major developments:

1. Iranian nuclear advancement: How does Iran continue to break records in enriched uranium quantities and volume of advanced centrifuges for enriching uranium if the Mossad (allegedly) blew up its nuclear facilities three times between July last year and June this year?

Institute for Science and International Security President David Albright said, “It looks like Iran rebuilt Karaj quickly, and it may have used some centrifuge parts produced prior to the attack. But the rate of production may be lower than expected, based on Iran’s stated plans.”

Albright said that unfortunately, “In the end, the attacks could not stop centrifuge production completely, only slow it down for some period of time. The ICAC was capable of building thousands of advanced centrifuges per year. Now Iran appears able to make many hundreds per year.”

Moreover, he said, “Inevitably, Iran will rebuild, so future increases should be expected, absent more attacks or negotiated limits.”

Next, Albright said, “Iran had nearly 2,000 advanced centrifuges deployed at Natanz and Fordow as of September 2021. Based on Iran’s declared plans to the IAEA and the requirements of the nuclear law, we have projected the total could increase to over 3,000 by early 2022.  We will soon learn how many advanced centrifuges are now deployed, at which point we can update our projection.”

The newly reported rate of 170 advanced centrifuges produced over a few months “is not that high, compared to Iran’s stated plans. We still need to learn the increase in number[s] deployed since September, however.”

He added that Iran’s “actions are very concerning, since production at Karaj and elsewhere is in secret, and some centrifuges could be hidden or diverted to a clandestine facility.”

A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

2. Partial sanctions relief even before the November 29 meeting?: Did the US quietly already give Iran some significant partial sanctions relief simply to get it to return to the negotiating table on November 29?

No one knows the full answer to this, but on Friday, a tweet published by Ali Naderi, the managing director of Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that over $3.5 billion of Iran’s blocked resources had been released by one of the countries holding them.

Naderi added that a “significant portion” of the now unblocked resources were entering Iran’s trade cycle. The IRNA CEO did not specify which country had released the resources and no one else has given specifics, with the US notably not responding at all.

In a similar vein, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced on Tuesday that Iran now has access to its resources in other countries, according to the Fars News Agency.

“In the beginning, the government had problems with selling oil, but now the situation has improved and I can only say that the government has access to its resources in other countries,” said Raisi.

Of course, the whole thing could be fake news spin to justify to its domestic base concessions which Iran may be contemplating as part of the November 29 nuclear talks.

If true, there is some speculation that the country referred to by Naderi is South Korea which has been one of the countries holding the largest amount of frozen Iranian assets.

Also, there might have been some kind of long-term deal reached in April when the Islamic Republic released a South Korean ship’s captain. Maybe South Korea said: “release our captain and months later when no one is watching, we will quietly release the funds” or some of the funds since $3.5 billion would only be part.

The big question then would be whether the US was involved in giving a quiet green light.

If it was, then Washington has already started to make partial sanctions relief concessions before the November 29 talks even start.

If that is true, the Biden administration would look like it is far more desperate to cut a deal, even one worse than the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, than the patient face it is presenting in public.

3. The key to Tehran is through Beijing: Can Iran be reigned in if the US and China reach a broader understanding of trade-offs in which Chinese President Xi Jinping moves toward America on the Iranian nuclear issue, while US President Joe Biden concedes something else which Beijing cares about more? Or will continued shakiness in this relationship doom any attempt to isolate the Islamic Republic diplomatically?

On Tuesday, a US official said that Biden and Jinping talked at their “virtual summit” about how they might harmonize their positions ahead of the November 29 talks.

“The two presidents had the chance to talk about how we can align our perspectives heading into that (November 29) meeting so that the P5+1 is united in dealing with Iran and trying to pave the way for a return to the (deal),” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a virtual think tank appearance.

One such concession could be if Washington said something positive for China on the Taiwan issue. Biden has lowered his profile in terms of Taiwanese independence.

All of this would seem optimistic from an Israeli perspective, except that none of it is coming from China, so it may just be more wishful US thinking that has moved Beijing very little.

Unfortunately, it is more likely that the US-China rivalry will continue and Beijing will continue to be Iran’s economic lifeline around US sanctions.

Reuters contributed to this report.